Analysis: West Brom sitting pretty with more to come
Now that’s more like it. After some early promise, Albion found their mojo in front of goal at just the right moment.
Not only was this Slaven Bilic’s first home win as Baggies boss, it was also one which sends fans and manager alike into the first international break of the season with confidence of what’s to come.
Two points per game is usually enough to win promotion, and while there is an awfully long way to go, that’s precisely what Albion have after the first six outings of the season.
Even though this team is new, and Bilic is still settling on his preferred starting XI, the results are still coming. What could be possible once they gel?
Albion gifted Blackburn two goals, and on another day, Tony Mowbray’s team may have grabbed a third in what was a far more even second half.
But that 18-minute blitz in the first period– when the Baggies knocked the stuffing out of their opponents – was reminiscent of last season when Barnes et al were at their full-flowing best.
This time though, it was Grady and Matty who looked devastatingly capable of scoring every time they went forward.
Diangana already has three goals this season and Phillips – who signed a three-year deal last week – has two. You feel there will be more to come.
The catalyst, however, was Matheus Pereira, Albion’s new samba star. The Brazilian, who set up the first two goals, played exactly the sort of incisive forward passes this team had been missing.
Although he was crowded out more in the second period, given time and space, like he was in the first half, he is a joy to behold.
Bilic deserves huge credit for picking Pereira ahead of Filip Krovinovic, a player he both rates and signed. As he said before the game, nothing should be taken for granted about his squad.
There’s no doubting Krovinovic’s talents, but as we expressed in these pages last week, he sometimes lacks the final flourish. Pereira, on Saturday at least, delivered it.
Albion could have scored more, but unlike last season’s vintage, there is a sturdy platform behind those attackers.
That may sound odd considering the two mistakes that led to the Blackburn goals, particularly because the first – 25 seconds in – was like watching a DVD of last season’s blunders. You could practically hear Danny Baker in the background.
But this team is a more convincing and cohesive unit. Buying Romaine Sawyers for £2.9million looked like the bargain of the summer, but then you realise Semi Ajayi cost less than half of that. What a steal that could turn out to be.
It is one of the older heads, however, who has been the player of the season so far.
Slimmer, fitter, and more confident in his role, Jake Livermore has been transformed by both the captain’s armband and Bilic.
His goal was impressive enough, but then there was the sprint, deep into the second half, past an opponent to win the ball back.
That’s the sort of work that – over the course of the season – wins games.
This team is not the finished article yet, by any means. Charlie Austin is still lacking the sharpness of those behind him, and Bilic is still not sure which striker to pick at the moment.
The zonal marking at set-plays doesn’t appear to be working, and Albion always look vulnerable at free-kicks and corners.
They conceded from another one in this game, but it doesn’t help when your goalkeeper spills an easy header back into the six yard box.
Sam Johnstone has made more errors than he would like in the first part of the season, and the sarcastic cheers when he caught a cross suggest that relationship with the fans – which seemed to have been patched up at Derby – is in danger of fracturing again.
But Bilic is a manager who, in his brief time in charge, has tweaked and corrected his team in order to improve it.
There should be hope that those mistakes will be eradicated over the course of time, or at least minimised.
Because this game answered the most glaring problem facing this team – the final third.
All of a sudden it seems Albion are not only capable of scoring goals, they're destined to.
They were helped by some shoddy Blackburn defending, and it’s worth remembering Rovers had a midweek game and Bilic did not.
Perhaps that’s why the visitors improved after the break and Mowbray’s double substitution.
But even that – holding on to a slim lead under such pressure – shows cojones. And it’s not like Albion didn’t have their own chances to wrap up the points.
They’ve also come from behind five times out of six and remain unbeaten. Imagine what might be possible if they stop giving the opposition the lead.
Only Leeds have had more shots than Albion so far this season.
So there are signs of progress, green shoots for this side already sitting fourth in the table that suggest performances might yet improve.
“We are a new team, we are still gelling, we still have those phases where we can improve,” said Bilic afterwards.
Albion’s Croatian manager isn’t planning to go home during the international break, in fact, he’s moving his family over to the Midlands.
He’s in this for the long haul, he wants to build something that lasts, and after this match, who is doubting he can?
And if you’ll allow this writer a rare moment of self-indulgence, it was extra special to sign off four years of covering the Baggies with such an encouraging victory.
It could be serious fun watching this team develop over the course of this season.